BBC Video // 2010 // 338 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // February 27th, 2012
"The Fades are coming..."
The BBC adds to its impressive stable of sci-fi and supernatural series with The Fades, created by Skins writer Jack Thorne. After making its debut stateside on BBC America, the fantasy series hits Blu-ray.
The Fades focuses on teenage loner Paul (Iain De Caestecker, Coronation Street), whose only refuge from bullying at school and at the hands of his popular twin sister Anna (Lily Loveless, Skins) is his best friend, fellow outcast and geek Mac (Daniel Kaluuya, Johnny English Reborn). Everything changes when Paul witnesses a strange man named Neil (Johnny Harris, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) fighting off a group of supernatural nasties in an abandoned shopping center. Neil is surprised that Paul can see these ghosts, called "Fades," encouraging him to embrace his destiny by joining a clandestine group called the Angelics, tasked with keeping the supernatural threat at bay. Before long, Neil realizes the boy is special, and that he may be the key to preventing the apocalypse that Paul keeps seeing in his dreams.
It's hard to write good fantasy. Too often, the reader is left fumbling about for several chapters, trying to work out the rules of the author's imagined world. The more complicated the story, the more likely it is the reader will put it down and pick up the latest spy thriller instead. Those hearty souls willing to push on past the confusion, however, gain entry into a world richer and more wonderful than they could have imagined -- the ultimate escape from reality. The best genre authors are able to make complex systems easy to understand, sucking in readers from the first page and never letting go. The same is true for sci-fi and fantasy TV series. Stick too close to reality and you risk boring viewers. Try to construct too dense a fictional world, and the chances that anyone will tune in past episode one plummet.
The BBC has built a reputation on being the home of smart TV. As the goofier aspects of British television are paved over by series with higher production values, these small screen gems come ever closer to the richness of storytelling usually reserved for novels. The Fades feels less like a TV show than a book, for better and worse. Like many fantasy novels, it's a slow burn, taking time to establish its characters and rules, building episode on episode towards a thrilling finale.
The Fades has a lot in common with two other, youth-focused BBC dramas, superhero series Misfits and supernatural thriller Being Human. All three shows have a young cast and are fantasy stories set in modern day Britain. But The Fades isn't nearly as accessible or lighthearted. Just compare the names. Misfits and Being Human are easy to remember and describe the characters and themes. The Fades doesn't even make sense until partway through the first episode, and even then only as reference to a specific part of a complex mythology. It's a terrible name. By taking itself and its rules so seriously, The Fades is harder to get into than its contemporaries. British Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this ain't.
Sticking with the show through the first confusing episodes, and The Fadesdevelops into a rich and rewarding narrative, although that richness comes more from the mythology than character development. We get to know Paul, his friends, and the players on both sides of the cosmic battle, but the show focuses more on the twists and terminology. Paul undergoes a transformation from loner to chosen one. He never manages to shake the awkward outcast persona, however. He gets a girlfriend (Sophie Wu, Kick-Ass), and explores his powers, but change comes from outside pressure more than inner convictions. The Fades is full of characters and parallel storylines. We spend time with Mac's stressed, possibly alcoholic, policeman father (Robbie Gee, Snatch), Paul's teacher (Tom Ellis, EastEnders) whose ex-wife (Natalie Dormer, Captain America: The First Avenger) has secretly been working with the Angelics, and an undead heavy (Joe Dempsie, Skins) who wants to usher in the end of the human world. A lot happens over the six bloody episodes of the first series. As the body count rises and blood flows in the streets, the stakes couldn't possibly be higher. Unfortunately, the thrill is dampened by a lack of emotional connection to the characters.
The Fades hits Blu-ray with a clean and satisfying 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer that's in line with the best hi-def television series. From day scenes to the horror-requisite nighttime sequences, the image is clear and well-filmed, with production values that shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with BBC series. Audio comes as a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track that's clear and dynamic. The audio-visual presentation doesn't reset the bar, but it doesn't disappoint either.
The set comes with a slew of bonus features, divided among both discs. All of them are maddeningly short, appear to have been made for the web, and lack any kind of "Play All" option.
* "Extra Scenes": 6 spin-off short films that feature Mac and Paul talking in a diner, and doesn't factor into the series storyline.
* "Deleted Scenes" for five of the six episodes, with introductions by producer Caroline Skinner and director Tom Shankland.
* "Outtakes": A blooper reel.
* "Behind the Scenes": Split up into interviews with Johnny Harris and Natalie Dormer, and six production featurettes.
* "Mac Explains": Six quick talking head videos with Paul's fast-talking best friend explaining and defining the Fades, Ascension, the Angelics, Paul's powers, Reborns, and how everyone is connected. Like many of the extras, it spends a lot of time explaining things that should probably be clear from watching the show.
The Fades is a fresh take on supernatural TV. I appreciate that it forgoes the "monster of the week" format that plagues similar series, and dives headlong into the mythology. Genre junkies will find a lot to sink their teeth into if they stick with it, but there's still something missing. Maybe it's humor, maybe it's accessibility, but I suspect the show shares more than a title with the ghostly Fades. They're both a little lifeless.
Undead, but Not Guilty.
Review content copyright © 2012 Erich Asperschlager; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 338 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site